The theme park operator revealed new details of the expansion of one of its most popular attractions inside Islands of Adventure, in Orlando, that will extend into Universal Studios Florida when it opens this June as the first themed multi-park experience.
“Guests with a park-to-park ticket will be able to travel between these two lands in a seamless adventure,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative for Universal Parks and Resorts, with “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” getting two separate entrances in both parks.
New addition, expected to cost around $400, according to analysts, will include a recreation of London’s riverfront embankment, and the Hogwarts Express, a train that will travel between the parks. But the main attraction will be Diagon Alley and spooky Knockturn Alley from J.K. Rowling’s books and the film adaptations, eight new stores, including a second Ollivanders wand shop, and the Leaky Cauldron restaurant. In addition to the secret magical brick wall through which guests enter Diagon Alley, the “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts” ride inside Gringotts Bank will feature a fire-breathing dragon outside.
It took four years to design and build the new addition, according to Thierry Coup, senior VP of Universal Creative at Universal Parks and Resorts. “We started to concept this right after we opened the first park,” he told Variety. “We were already getting great feedback and questions of ‘Why didn’t you do Diagon Alley and Gringotts?'”
Woodbury said it was key to build Diagon Alley, since it offered more stories for Universal to tell and turn into attractions. “This is the place where Harry Potter got his first wand,” he said.
It was key to make the expansion as detailed as the first, Woodbury added. “It will be just as authentic as Hogsmeade,” the town from the books which has the Hogwarts Castle looming overhead in “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” the executive said.
Hogsmeade will also get some updates, with an expansion of the Honeydukes candy shop, for example.
Details were revealed in a webcast as Universal is hosting its “Celebration of Harry Potter” event.
Universal has wanted to expand “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” since it opened in 2010 and attracted long lines of guests. Park instantly turned around Universal’s theme park business, and Universal is now building additional versions of the Harry Potter park in Hollywood and Osaka, Japan, with Warner Bros., which controls the license.
Sales of food and merchandise rose 29% in the first nine months after the park’s opening in 2010, while ticket sales rose 20%.
It took five years to build the first “Wizarding World” and bring Rowling’s world to life.
New expansion in Orlando is expected to lure more guests into the Universal Studios park, which operates next to Islands of Adventure, but hasn’t been much of a draw in recent years because of its lack of the kind of thrill rides that its sister park offers.
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” will essentially flow into Universal Studios Florida from Islands of Adventure, and that was done on purpose in order to incorporate the Hogwarts Express train.
In the books, London and Hogsmeade are a considerable distance apart from each other, and to add the train, Universal needed to make room for it to travel. As a result, it retired its “Jaws” attraction and gave up the surrounding area for the tracks and Diagon Alley and the London section, which also take up considerable space and enabled Universal to build something on the same scale as its neighboring Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade village.
“Linking the parks with the Hogwarts Express was a big challenge, but it was so important for us to bring the journey to life,” Coup said. “It was far enough away from Hogswmeade that it gave us good amount of land. Linking these two worlds into one story and all part of the same theme has never done.”
“What it is going to do for our guests is something that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Coup added, with the train expected to provide a full family experience and won’t turn off guests who don’t want to ride a rollercoaster, for example or can’t board another attraction because of height restrictions.
“The train is a train ride,” Coup said. “Everyone can ride it.”
Universal already has started promoting the expansion to tourists planning summer vacations through TV spots airing during the morning news shows. A dedicated website has also been launched.
Universal worked closely with the Potter pics’ production designer Stuart Craig and art director Alan Gilmore on the expansion as it did on the first. They discuss the expansion in the video below.
“Harry Potter” isn’t the only new addition at Universal Studios Florida.
Universal also has updated “The Simpsons Ride” at Universal Studios Orlando with a new Springfield town area offering themed restaurants and stores, added “Minion Mayhem,” and got its version of “Transformers: The Ride 3D.”
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The Orlando resort is also opening its fourth hotel, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, with a 1950s and ’60s theme designed for more price-conscious travelers. Hotel has 1,800 rooms, and includes a 10-lane bowling alley.
And eight new venues will also open inside a revamped CityWalk, outside the parks, including the eateries the Hot Dog Hall of Fame, Cowfish, Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, and Red Oven Pizza Bakery.